Sacred sites are places within the landscape that have a deep significance under Aboriginal tradition.
Hills, rocks, waterholes, trees, plains, lakes, billabongs and other natural features can be sacred sites. In coastal and sea areas, sacred sites may include features which lie both above and below the water.
All Aboriginal sacred sites in the Northern Territory are protected under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Land Rights Act) and the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (Sacred Sites Act) 1989.
Aboriginal heritage can include places such as artefact scatters, shell middens, earth mounds, quarries, stone arrangements, rock shelters, rock art, burial sites and places that provide evidence of early contact between Aboriginal people and Europeans.
In the NT both sacred sites, and via the Heritage Act, Aboriginal archaeological heritage sites are protected.
For more information on the protection of heritage sites please contact the Heritage Branch.
While all sacred sites are protected in the Northern Territory, registering a sacred site establishes its status with comprehensive information required by law, and makes it easier to prosecute any offences committed in relation to that site.
Registration of a sacred site by the Board of the AAPA is considered as proof in a court of law that a place is indeed a sacred site. The detailed information held by the Authority on registered sacred sites also results in more effective conditions within Authority Certificates.
A short story about the sacred site, which is called a Register Extract, and a map of the site are put on the Authority’s Public Register. Secret and sensitive material about the site is protected and not made available to the public.
Recorded sites are sacred sites that have been made known to the AAPA from a variety of sources. In many cases the AAPA has not been able to fully assess the accuracy of its information regarding recorded sites, nor have these sites been fully mapped. These sacred sites are still protected by the Sacred Sites Act.
To find out about the location of sacred sites within a given project area, it is possible to request information from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority’s records.
It must be remembered that this only indicates Aboriginal sacred sites currently known to the AAPA. Unless the comprehensive work of an Authority Certificate has been done over the relevant area, it is possible there may be sacred sites not currently known to the Authority.
It should also be noted, only Aboriginal custodians, consulted as part of the Authority Certificate process, are able to define what is required to protect a site. The information provided through a Request for Information is not sufficient to undertake works with confidence that sacred sites won’t be damaged.
Unauthorised entry into a sacred site is punishable under the Sacred Sites Act but the existence of a sacred site does not necessarily mean that entry or works on or near the site will be prohibited.
There are many places where unrestricted access is authorised, including many recreational places, parks and reserves, and common landmarks. A person may also enter or carry out works on a sacred site if they have an Authority Certificate stating they may do so.
The existence of a sacred site does not necessarily mean that entry or works on or near the site are prohibited.
Prior to undertaking any works, you should obtain an Authority Certificate from the AAPA.
Authority Certificates are based on consultations with Aboriginal custodians and set out clear conditions regarding proposed work in the vicinity of sacred sites.
Without an Authority Certificate, you could be at high risk of damaging a sacred site which could lead to prosecution, reputational damage, significant delays and additional costs to your project.
As part of assessing the Authority Certificate application, AAPA staff conduct extensive analysis including background research, field work, and consultation with custodians. When planning projects it is important to allow sufficient time to obtain an Authority Certificate prior to the commencement of works.
An Authority Certificate provides you with an indemnity against prosecution under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 (Sacred Sites Act) if you adhere to its conditions.
No. Data can only be provided for specific project areas.
In addition, the AAPA database is constantly being updated, so maps only indicate sacred sites currently known to the AAPA.
For access to any Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory you must contact the relevant Land Council to seek a permit to do so.